Dr. Patricia Moseley Stanford

The World in which the Pilgrims Lived
byThomas Barenfeld
Cleveland Public Library
Cleveland, Ohio

The 17th Century (the 1600's)

The power of the French and the English increased in this century, and the Power of the Spanish declined. In 1618, two years before the Pilgrims settled in America, the famous Thirty Years War began. Many European nations were fighting over political and religious differences.

The Pilgrims

In 1620, a group of 102 English people sailed on the "Mayflower" for Virginia, where they could worship as hey pleased. In November they reached the coast of Massachusetts, and there founded Plymouth Colony. The winter was difficult. Over half of them died. But their first harvest in 1621, while not large, was encouraging. Thankful, they invited ninety of their Indian friends and had a great feast of deer meat, roast duck and goose, clams, corn bread, and wild plums. This is the origin of our Thanksgiving Day.

Other Colonies in North America

Far to the north, Frenchmen had been living in Quebec since 1608. To the south there was an English colony at Jamestown, founded in 1607. In Florida at St. Augustine, a Spanish colony had been established in 1565. And Santa Fe, New Mexico, was colonized in 1606. Soon to follow were the Dutch settlement, New Amsterdam (New York City) in 1624, and the Puritans in Salem in 1628 and in Boston in 1630.

Writers and Thinkers

The most important English playwright was Ben Jonson (c.1573-1637 ). and the poet of greatest fame was John Donne (c.1572-1631). In France, Rene Descartes, (1596-1650) made discoveries in mathematics and wrote "Discourse on Method", a famous book of philosophy about how to doubt and how to question. The Dutchman, Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) was one of the first men to write about international law. The Englishman, Francis Bacon (1561-1626) is famous for his ideas about the ways in which modern science makes discoveries and uncovers the laws of nature.


In the year 1620, Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) of Flanders was famous as a painter as well as ambassador for his country. He was knighted by the King of England. A pupil of Rubens, Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), was soon to become well-known. And Velasquez (1599-1660) became important as a painter of the Spanish Court. In Holland Rembrandt, one of the greatest artists of all time, was a boy of fourteen.


The largest and finest mosque in the world, the Blue Mosque, was built in Constantinople. And in Italy, at the Villa d'Este near Rome, there was under construction a spectacular water garden. The famous English architect Inigo Jones (1573-1652) is best remembered for his royal Banqueting House, Whitehall, London.


In England, William Byrd (1543-1623); organist at Lincoln Cathedral, composed many beautiful songs called madrigals, as well as church music, and was honored by Queen Elizabeth I. In Italy, Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) wrote "Orfeo", the first modern opera of distinction. He wrote lovely madrigals, too, and was choir director at the Cathedral of St. Mark in Venice. In Germany, Heinrich Schutz (1585-1672) was composing the religious music for which he is especially remembered.


The Italian scientist Galileo (1564-1642) perfected the telescope in 1609. With it he discovered new stars and helped to prove that the earth traveled around the sun. The German scientist Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) used mathematics to prove his ideas about physics and astronomy. In England, Dr. William Harvey (1578-1654) discovered how the heart works and how the blood circulates in the body.

The Rulers

James I (1566-1625) was king of England in 1620. In France, Louis XIII (1601-1643) ruled, soon to be assisted by the famous Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642). In Spain, the weak and confused Philip III (1578-1621) was in power. And in Russia, Michael Romanov (1598-1645), the first of the famous Romanov dynasty, extended his country's boundaries through Siberia to the Pacific Ocean.

The Near and Far East

The ancient Ming ruling family in China was in decline, shortly to be replaced by the Manchus. In Japan, Christian missionaries were being dismissed. In India, the cruel and severe ruler Jahangir (1569-1627) occupied the throne. His son, Shah Jehan (d.1666), would in twelve years build the most famous tomb in the world, the Taj Mahal. In Persia, the powerful shah, Abbas the Great (c.1557-c.1629) ruled Moslems from the Euphrates River to the Indus River. On the outskirts of Isfahan he built for himself a many-acred square of gardens and fountains surrounded by magnificent palaces and mosques (Moslem churches).